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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » General Role-Playing

Subject: PCs of a lower level adventuring w/ ones of higher levels rss

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Chris Dirk
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Just wondering about this....

How does a DM/players/group handle intergrading a PC of a lower level in a party with PCs of higher ones?

As in... Player one's level 5 character dies. The rest of the party characters are lv 5 & 6s.

Player one creates new lv 1 character and joins the party.

How does this work in terms of party functionality?

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Chad Bowser
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In those situations we usually create characters closer in level to the rest of the party. The new characters are usually 1/2 to 3/4 the level of the existing characters.
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Brian M
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If you are talking D&D, generally it doesn't. Bring in the new character at around the same level.

In games with less of a power curve it can be less of a problem; generally try to make sure each character has a niche, and so isn't overshadowed even by more experienced characters.

Bringing in the new character at around the same level is still usually a better idea though.
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Chris Dirk wrote:
How does this work in terms of party functionality?

I don't exactly know, because my groups will tend to just let someone bring in a character of the same level as the party, on the off-chance anyone died. This is done mainly, I believe, because having a mismatch party requires more thought and effort.

As I see it, if everyone is friendly then it's a matter of everyone helping point the adventure in the direction of scenarios that have interesting things for characters of various levels to do. The problem is that some of those things are likely to feel less fun than others. It's important to help the townsfolk get to safety, but unless there's some mental challenge to that it's going to pale a bit in comparison to fighting against the reavers who are trying to burn the town to the ground.

But the idea is to avoid all-on-all, kill-or-be-killed combat because the lower-level character will typically not be as capable while also requiring much more protection. One approach is just to change the goal of the opposition from kill-or-be-killed to "accomplish some goal," with XP going to the players not only for kills, but for preventing the enemy from achieving their goal.

Consider Merry and Pippin in the FotR movie: they couldn't hope to fight the uruk-hai who are searching for a halfling, but they realize that they can act as a distraction. This backfires on them a bit, but if they were low-level PCs, I'd give them advancement points for their contribution to the party's (overall) success in that scene.

So, overall, what it means for party functionality is that the party's functionality needs to shift toward multi-faceted quests (or toward foiling enemy goals), if it hasn't already, and away from free-for-all combat.
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The party gets a brand spankin' new 1st Level monster-magnet/beer-holder. While total party level is reduced, comedy level increases.
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Clark Timmins
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In 5th Ed, a level disparity of 1st - 5th isn't insurmountable. The 1st level char's main job is to stay alive, and the adventure continues. The disparate amounts of XP needed to gain new levels make the gap shrink fairly rapidly.

In this method, some parties prefer to do a treasure share by level - for example: characters of 1st, 5th, 5th, 6th levels in a party would pool treasure and then divide by 17 (summed levels), giving one share per level. This keeps the n00b from unduly profiting for (basically) hiding in the background. It also sort of offsets the experience point divide. And when the 1st level n00b finally hits 5th level, they'll have a rational amount of treasure/equipment instead of way too much.

An alternate to just starting at 5th level would be to escalate leveling up. This gives the character a chance to grow into the campaign from level 1, though rapidly. In this method, after ONE session the character gains 2nd level, after one more session gains 3rd level, and then (depending on your preference) play proceeds from there on a normal basis.

I've never been fond of "giving" a 5th level character to maintain easy party balance, because when you do that you sort of eliminate the final penalty for character death. If players know their advanced character can die and just get replaced, then there isn't that much of an incentive to careful roleplaying - in fact, some players might do it on purpose because they want to try something else.
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I'm going to answer this from a D&D-centric angle, because it seems to be where you're coming from. If you're playing some other RPG then this advice can apply to a lesser or greater extent.

If the characters are similar in power levels then it isn't much of a problem. If you're playing Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition) then power levels of characters are pretty similar about +/-2 levels in each direction. (Or you can think of it in "tiers", which they talk about in the Player's Handbook (D&D 5e). And I can't recall off the top of my head where the tiers fit.)

As you go back to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) then it gets to be less of an issue. The players end up at different levels anyway because of the different advancement rates on the charts.

One thing about D&D: Lower level PCs can catch up pretty quickly. Since the XP charts aren't linear then lower level characters helping out with higher level threats will earn XP quickly if they can stay alive.

It can be done. I know old-school D&D groups where the rule is, "If your character dies you roll one up at half the XP level of dead PC." That seems punishing until you realize that the XP requirements double every level, and so you end up with characters who are only a level behind.

Try it. See what works for you. Grant extra levels to a new PC if you think that's the way to go. Be willing to experiment. Flexibility is one of the great points of an RPG.
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Brian M
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ctimmins wrote:

I've never been fond of "giving" a 5th level character to maintain easy party balance, because when you do that you sort of eliminate the final penalty for character death. If players know their advanced character can die and just get replaced, then there isn't that much of an incentive to careful roleplaying - in fact, some players might do it on purpose because they want to try something else.


Why should there be a "penalty" for character death?

Why shouldn't a played who wants to try something else just be able to switch to a different character?
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Mark Wilson
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There's a good Behind the Screen article that deals with this:
https://rpggeek.com/thread/2035347/behind-screen-33-praise-m...

You might not agree with all of it, but there's a lot of good ideas in it.

Chris Dirk wrote:
Just wondering about this....

How does a DM/players/group handle intergrading a PC of a lower level in a party with PCs of higher ones?

As in... Player one's level 5 character dies. The rest of the party characters are lv 5 & 6s.

Player one creates new lv 1 character and joins the party.

How does this work in terms of party functionality?



If this is indeed 5e, I think the "traditional" penalty is a loss of 1 level for your next PC. Most groups don't have the new PC roll in at lvl 1.

That said, if you're using traditional XP, they'l level a LOT faster in those early levels relative to the rest of the group. They just need to be really careful in the first 2-3 encounters.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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My group has PCs all at the same level and level up at the same time. My group believes that the game would get too wonky if all PCs aren't at the same level.
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Hans Messersmith
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ctimmins wrote:
In 5th Ed, a level disparity of 1st - 5th isn't insurmountable. The 1st level char's main job is to stay alive, and the adventure continues. The disparate amounts of XP needed to gain new levels make the gap shrink fairly rapidly.
This is certainly true. A 1st level character may hit 2nd level after surviving even a single fight that is commensurate to 5th/6th level characters. A single session might get them almost to 3rd level.

Surviving is, of course, the tricky bit.

I've never played in a D&D game where players always restarted at 1st level regardless of the level of the other characters. I'm with HiveGod, the comedy value of that would be pretty high. Groups I have played with have always had some house rule that brings people back in at some level higher than 1st. In my current game, the rule is your next character starts halfway to the level your last character was at. If you die at 6th level, your next character will be 5th level, with half as many XP as are needed to get to 6th level. That being said, psychologically the game is being conducted with a "if your character dies you have lost D&D" mindset. Well, at least that's the way I play, which is why I'm the only person with the same character after nearly 30 sessions. I'm winning!

One mechanic that could be house ruled into D&D, and could be a good way to make players spend gold, is the "stash" mechanic in the Freebooters on the Frontier variant of Dungeon World. In that game, players can "stash" their treasure in town. When they do so, it is lost to their current characters, but when their character dies it gets converted (at a reasonable exchange rate) to XP for their next character. This is a pure meta-mechanic, there is no direct in-fiction explanation of how the "transfer" between the two characters happens or what it means. Also Dungeon World has a lot narrower band of levels than D&D5E and a lot less of a power increase as you go up in level, so its easier to implement. But still, might be useful.
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Hans Messersmith
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ctimmins wrote:
I've never been fond of "giving" a 5th level character to maintain easy party balance, because when you do that you sort of eliminate the final penalty for character death. If players know their advanced character can die and just get replaced, then there isn't that much of an incentive to careful roleplaying - in fact, some players might do it on purpose because they want to try something else.
I think this is one very valid and fun playstyle. I mostly prefer it myself. But that being said, I know players who do not view it this way. One of the reasons they play is to explore lots of different types of characters. So, for them, a system that leads to a fairly high rate of character death but also creating new characters close to the old level is part of the fun. It lets them cycle through a bunch of concepts and explore the system. What you are seeking to penalize, Clark, is exactly what they think would be the most fun.

Its all about the high level "point" of the game. If the game is intended to generate gritty fear about character loss, so that players play to avoid it, then some kind of penalty in terms of level/XP on character loss makes perfect sense. But if the game is about a bunch of characters working through some kind of story arc or something, all high adventure and derring-do, then a large penalty for player character death is counterproductive.

Another way to phrase this is if you want to run a game where players play cautiously and tactically, then penalize them for character death. If you want them to play with high energy, diving into danger and action, don't penalize them. Neither is right or wrong, it depends on the game you want to run as GM (and also the game the players want you to run, obviously).
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I remember playing a DC Heroes Role-Playing Game (2nd & 3rd Edition) game as a low-powered speedster named the Zinger (who also specialized in cheesy one-liners). Our GM tried to have us team up with the Justice League against some particularly powerful villains and asked me what I was going to do.

I answered that I was going to get a Coke and some popcorn and watch the fight on TV.

The GM was flustered. Why wasn't I joining the fight, he wanted to know?

Dude if Superman and Wonder Woman and Batman are out there, they don't need me! Look at my lowly stats. I'd be an innocent bystander!

Pete (was totally right, and thinks you shouldn't mix high powered characters with chump characters)
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StormKnight wrote:
ctimmins wrote:

I've never been fond of "giving" a 5th level character to maintain easy party balance, because when you do that you sort of eliminate the final penalty for character death. If players know their advanced character can die and just get replaced, then there isn't that much of an incentive to careful roleplaying - in fact, some players might do it on purpose because they want to try something else.


Why should there be a "penalty" for character death?

Why shouldn't a played who wants to try something else just be able to switch to a different character?


Some people like the tension of games with more consequences.

I've also heard of players who are so enamored of "builds" that they bring a different character every couple weeks, wanting to try out some newfangled thing they found online. Requiring that they start at a lower level than the rest of the party could help curb that.
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Not to spam the thread, but...

Taking the guidelines in the 5E DMG as a rule in terms of how many XP's of monsters is a reasonable amount to fight for medium/hard encounters, and assuming that you have a five character party of 4 5th level, 1 1st level, as well as a few other assumptions, then the number of encounters to level for the character at 1st level would be (lower value is all hard difficulty encounters, higher value is all medium difficulty encounters):

to 2nd level: 1 to 2 encounters
to 3rd level: 3 to 5 encounters
to 4th level: 9 to 13 encounters
to 5th level: 20 to 30 encounters

(this is assuming the GM only throws groups of 3-6 monsters on average at the players)

I can show my work if people want to see it. During that same time the 5th level characters would gain, at most, one level.

Caveat: I've never ran D&D5E personally, so my understanding of the encounter XP rules in the DMG may be faulty.
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dysjunct wrote:
I've also heard of players who are so enamored of "builds" that they bring a different character every couple weeks, wanting to try out some newfangled thing they found online. Requiring that they start at a lower level than the rest of the party could help curb that.

Reading just the words you wrote, dysjunct, it reads like "some people do this thing they think is fun. They need to be kept from doing that." I feel I can safely assume that isn't actually what you meant, and that the behavior needs to be curbed because it is at least one of these:

1) disrupting the fun of other players in some fashion (e.g. making the overall plot weirdly incoherent because new characters are showing up all the time, skewing the power levels/balance in some fashion, making it hard for the GM to plan out the next session)

2) missing the point of the game as it was initially started somehow (e.g. the GM clearly pitched the game as a gritty dungeon crawl where the point is to keep your character alive as long as possible).

I say this because I can easily see setting up a game where everyone swaps characters around almost at will, constantly trying out new characters, even in the D&D context. For example, there is an "adventuring guild" in the town that puts together custom parties and sends them out on specific missions. Each mission might involve a totally different party.

But having said that, I feel like I am moving away from the original post's questions, which were focused on including low-level and high level characters in the same party. So I will say nothing more on this point here.

Also, when I have posted 4 of the last 6 replies, time to shut the hell up and come back tomorrow.
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In 4th Edition D&D, the advice is just to bring in another character of the same level as the rest of the party which, yes, not everyone likes. In fact, were it to come up in my game, I'd tweak it slightly: if someone's character died and they brought in a new one in my game, I'd impose the "death penalty."

In 4th Edition the Raise Dead ritual imposes, along with a cost of time and material components, a so-called "death penalty" on the raised character. This is a -1 penalty to all attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws and ability checks. Because 4th Edition characters gain +1 to their attack rolls and checks every two levels, this penalty is similar to the character coming in one to three levels lower. Their AC and other defenses as well as their HP would also be lower if they were actually a lower level, so that isn't reflected, but the penalty to their saving throws (which are usually just "roll 10 or higher on 1d20" are are used to determine the duration of deleterious effects, as well as how long it takes a dying character to die) means that they will suffer marginally more from the hits they do take, and are more likely not to survive being reduced below 0 HP.

The thing I find really interesting about the penalty is that its duration isn't a particular amount of time, or until a given amount of XP is obtained. Instead, it lasts until the character reaches three "milestones." A milestone is roughly equivalent to two reasonably challenging encounters (combat or non-combat) without an extended rest between them. A DM might call a milestone after one very tough encounter, or decide that a given encounter doesn't count toward a milestone, but 2 is pretty standard. This means the character must face approximately six encounters in their less-effective state, and has an incentive not to rest heavily after every one. The rules state that four encounters are reasonable for a group to handle in one day, so the penalty might last for a day, though since they have a penalized party member they might not have the ability to push on as much as they'd like.

So, I'd apply penalty that to a replacement character. It wouldn't represent the strain of coming back from the dead, but rather the time and effort it takes the new character to gel with the existing party.
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skalchemist wrote:
dysjunct wrote:
I've also heard of players who are so enamored of "builds" that they bring a different character every couple weeks, wanting to try out some newfangled thing they found online. Requiring that they start at a lower level than the rest of the party could help curb that.

Reading just the words you wrote, dysjunct, it reads like "some people do this thing they think is fun. They need to be kept from doing that." I feel I can safely assume that isn't actually what you meant, and that the behavior needs to be curbed because it is at least one of these:

1) disrupting the fun of other players in some fashion (e.g. making the overall plot weirdly incoherent because new characters are showing up all the time, skewing the power levels/balance in some fashion, making it hard for the GM to plan out the next session)

2) missing the point of the game as it was initially started somehow (e.g. the GM clearly pitched the game as a gritty dungeon crawl where the point is to keep your character alive as long as possible).

I say this because I can easily see setting up a game where everyone swaps characters around almost at will, constantly trying out new characters, even in the D&D context. For example, there is an "adventuring guild" in the town that puts together custom parties and sends them out on specific missions. Each mission might involve a totally different party.

But having said that, I feel like I am moving away from the original post's questions, which were focused on including low-level and high level characters in the same party. So I will say nothing more on this point here.

Also, when I have posted 4 of the last 6 replies, time to shut the hell up and come back tomorrow.


Yes, that's only a problem if it's annoying the rest of the group.
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Clark Timmins
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StormKnight wrote:
Why should there be a "penalty" for character death?

Perhaps "penalty" is the wrong word, here. And, there are all kinds of groups that do it all kinds of ways, and whatever works for them - that's great.

Without trying to be all pedantic and stuff, however, when we're talking "level up" games we're talking D&D or one of its close cousins. These types of games have two character reward streams for play - wealth ("gold pieces") and experience ("XP"). The "point" of playing the game is to gain experience levels which unlock new powers and abilities, enhance survivability, and etc.(OK, yeah, yeah, the point is to have fun). The ultimate tension in level games (and many other games) comes from the perceived threat of character death. And the perceived threat comes from the existence of an actual penalty. If your character dies and then "just gets better" then there is no threat and no perception of a threat, which means the in-game trade-off of risk-vs-reward is eliminated. If this happens, there is no "point" to playing the game. Again, I'm talking about "level up" games, not roleplaying.

If you remove all penalties of death, then character death is a non-event. And players will respond to that. Characters will take any/all risks, behave in insane ways, and basically slug it out to the last bitter hit point. This also removes most of the fun of the game, because now you're just automatically accumulating XP and treasure no matter what.

StormKnight wrote:
Why shouldn't a played who wants to try something else just be able to switch to a different character?

There's absolutely no reason they shouldn't. But switching characters because "I want to try a warlock bard gnome" seems legit, but "Bob XIV just died, here's Sheila XXVII" is just silly. "Oh, I just died? I'm playing the exact same character, let me swap out the name on the sheet... next round? Cool, I'm at full HP!"

It also depends on the campaign. The GM needs to be able to plan in advance, and if players show up with random new builds each and every time, then it puts a lot on the GM and (probably) really hurts campaign continuity. Assuming, of course, you're playing in a campaign.

In D&D Adventurers League, characters of Tier 1 (I think that's levels 1 - 4) are reconfigurable between sessions. You "keep" your stuff and XP but you can rebuild your character as much as you want to. It's intended to let players start with standard pre-gens at a con, then go home and make the character they want. I think it's a pretty good method.
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ctimmins wrote:
StormKnight wrote:
Why should there be a "penalty" for character death?

Perhaps "penalty" is the wrong word, here. And, there are all kinds of groups that do it all kinds of ways, and whatever works for them - that's great.

Without trying to be all pedantic and stuff, however, when we're talking "level up" games we're talking D&D or one of its close cousins. These types of games have two character reward streams for play - wealth ("gold pieces") and experience ("XP"). The "point" of playing the game is to gain experience levels which unlock new powers and abilities, enhance survivability, and etc.(OK, yeah, yeah, the point is to have fun). The ultimate tension in level games (and many other games) comes from the perceived threat of character death. And the perceived threat comes from the existence of an actual penalty. If your character dies and then "just gets better" then there is no threat and no perception of a threat, which means the in-game trade-off of risk-vs-reward is eliminated. If this happens, there is no "point" to playing the game. Again, I'm talking about "level up" games, not roleplaying.

If you remove all penalties of death, then character death is a non-event. And players will respond to that. Characters will take any/all risks, behave in insane ways, and basically slug it out to the last bitter hit point. This also removes most of the fun of the game, because now you're just automatically accumulating XP and treasure no matter what.


We see the same paradigm in the rogue-like games. Some are hardcore where if you die, you start over. Others are less so. And they all appeal to different people for different reasons. I don't personally find it fun to just be along to survive and glom XP off of the higher level encounter.
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Chris Dirk wrote:
Just wondering about this....[snip]
How does this work in terms of party functionality?
Varies widely by game.

AD&D, provided the new characters are 1-4 levels lower (this is possible for characters up to about 10th level in Dark Sun), they'll almost catch up.

5E, not a problem - up to 4-5 levels is no biggie.

D&D 3.x? more than 2 levels is an issue.

Spacemaster, Rolemaster, MERP... Depends upon the group. If the group has focused on a few key skills... the diminishing returns apply at 10 levels.... and the combo of open ended rolls, and the diminishing returns for more than 10 levels, it tends to be less an issue than D&D.

Justifiers: not a problem. Starting characters are relatively competent, and advancement is relatively slow.
Palladium: similar to Justifiers, and for the same reason,
The Arcanum: Like Palladium and Justifiers, competent at start, slow growth.

Traveller: no levels, but characters range in competence widely coming out of the gate, so it's going to be the standard.

If the disparity is too high, I usually bounce the new guy to lowest less 1.
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ctimmins wrote:
There's absolutely no reason they shouldn't. But switching characters because "I want to try a warlock bard gnome" seems legit, but "Bob XIV just died, here's Sheila XXVII" is just silly. "Oh, I just died? I'm playing the exact same character, let me swap out the name on the sheet... next round? Cool, I'm at full HP!"

It also depends on the campaign. The GM needs to be able to plan in advance, and if players show up with random new builds each and every time, then it puts a lot on the GM and (probably) really hurts campaign continuity. Assuming, of course, you're playing in a campaign.
I think those are solid points, Clark. I had honestly forgotten that there are people who do what you are describing in the first paragraph, because I haven't played with someone who would try that since I was in high school. I'm not going to say its wrong for a person to want to do that, but I will say that it likely turns the game into a weird parody/comedy. Its like the drummers in Spinal Tap. In nearly every game I play it would be against the tone of the game.

ctimmins wrote:
If you remove all penalties of death, then character death is a non-event. And players will respond to that. Characters will take any/all risks, behave in insane ways, and basically slug it out to the last bitter hit point. This also removes most of the fun of the game, because now you're just automatically accumulating XP and treasure no matter what.

I agree completely with everything here except the last sentence. And I only disagree with the last sentence because I can see how structuring a whole game around the idea could be fun.
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William mentions this, but at least in D&D or Pathfinder, there has got to be some kind of level threshold where playing a 1st level character on death is simply impossible. No, not impossible, that's not the right word. Going back to HiveGod's post, there has to be a threshold where it becomes pure comedy with no other value. Like, just hanging out with the party is instant death for a 1st level character. "Hi guys, I'm Bob" "Hi Bob!" *dragon breath* "Poor Bob..."

1st level in a 5th level party seems like it could maybe work. 1st level in a 20th level party seems self-evidently a recipe for constant and humorous death. Somewhere in between is the threshold. My instinct is 5 or 6 levels (as William mentions) is the most, but I also am betting it varies with the level of the party.

I guess what I am saying is that in any game where you are trying to keep at least a partially serious tone and that goes on for long enough, eventually you would have to implement some kind of house rule to start at a level higher than 1st with new characters. Otherwise any game that goes on long enough will begin to look more like Paranoia than D&D. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but I am saying it would be a different thing than I think most people want.
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skalchemist wrote:
Going back to HiveGod's post, there has to be a threshold where it becomes pure comedy with no other value. Like, just hanging out with the party is instant death for a 1st level character. "Hi guys, I'm Bob" "Hi Bob!" *dragon breath* "Poor Bob..."


"Hey guys, this is my new character. His name is Spinalt Apdrum Mer."
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ctimmins wrote:
If you remove all penalties of death, then character death is a non-event. And players will respond to that. Characters will take any/all risks, behave in insane ways, and basically slug it out to the last bitter hit point. This also removes most of the fun of the game, because now you're just automatically accumulating XP and treasure no matter what.

If the only thing at stake is one's character, then this is true. If the character can suffer irreparable loss of some other kind, while still surviving, then it's not quite as true.

If death and character replacement are to cary some downsides, can we all agree that there's a middleground between the extremes of "I immediately bring in my replacement at full health and equal capability" and "Our friend who carved out time to be with us now has to out of the game or at least be mostly ineffectual for the rest of the evening"?

I assume it's not necessary for a game to involve only challenges that risk bathing the entire party in damage, and that a party with more vulnerable characters might (with the GM's help) have a way to give them useful, entertaining, interesting tasks with a relatively low risk of instant immolation.
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